Archive for April, 2012

This week’s highlights:

  • 20th April – 3rd May: Palestine Film Festival 2012

See below for details of particular screenings and events.

  • 25th April @ Barbican: Promised Lands + The Beautiful Language (introduction by Ella Shohat)

A unique opportunity to view Susan Sontag’s 1974 post-Yom Kippur War documentary, alongside Mounir Fatmi’s visually groundbreaking The Beautiful Lanugage. Film scholar Ella Shohat will be presenting both films; catch her the following day discussing her book Israeli Cinema: East/West and the Politics of Representation. Tickets and information for both events which are part of the Palestine Film Festival 2012 are available here.

  • until 27th April @ ICA: Blank City

Fans of Jim Jarmusch, Nick Zedd and Gaspar Noe’s work, grab a ticket for one of the last few screenings of Celine Danhier’s 2011 documentary.  If you’re familiar with the No Wave movement, and more particularly if you’re not, this is a must-see.

  • 28th April @ Parsons Green: Film Fugitive Presents: Rear Window

If you’re not quite sure how an angel of the big screen (Grace Kelly), an unholy treatment of a terrifying subject (by Alfred Hitchcock), and painted glass and a pew (in St Dionis, Parsons Green) all fit together, why not find out for yourself? One of four pop-up cinema screenings by Film Fugitive for the Pull Up A Hitchcock Pew series.

For full programme and listings:

2012 London Palestine Film Festival

Coming up:

  • 2nd May @ ICA: BAFTA Masterclass: Cinematography with David Katznelson

 

Based on Domitilla Calamai’s eponymous book, Julie Gavras’ 2006 Franco-Italian debut feature film enchanted audiences at home and abroad, collecting several awards from francophone countries and featuring at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.

Anna (Nina Kervel-Bey, brilliantly, convincingly strong-headed)  is a 9 year old Parisian daughter of Spanish and French petite bourgeoisie. The film follows her story from the death of her uncle under Franco’s regime to the assassination of Chilean President Salvador Allende on September 11th 1973.

When Anna’s aunt and cousin find refuge in the family home in Paris, Anna’s tranquil, regulated life is thrown into a shambles. New terms such as distribution of wealth and communist, uttered by her increasingly reactionary parents, creep their way into her vocabulary alongside the familiar and reassuring teachings of the school nuns’ bible study.

Anna struggles to hang onto a reference point in a world that is many shades of grey: she witnesses wisdom within prejudice and prejudice hiding behind a screen of progress; she discovers her ancestors are torturers and their children self-styled freedom-fighters.

As a throng of bearded visitors and a succession of exotic nannies (from “countries where they burn children with napalm”) all but invade the downsized house her family now inhabits, Anna’s hunger to understand slowly takes precedent over her outright rejection of this drastic change in her traditional upbringing. Initially dubbed “la momia” by her father’s Allende-supporting friends, she learns to tolerate their late-night presence and increasingly seeks out their company. Her attempts at spying on her mother’s feminist meetings and secret recording sessions are met with strict rebuttal.

While the adults each fight their own battle, she tries to assimilate the concept of “group solidarity” which they make her experience first-hand in an anti-Franco demonstration. Her lack of understanding in the face of issues such as social mobility and abortion mirrors that of the older generation and her catholic schoolmates’ parents, but her curiosity and an incontrovertible sense of logic push through: she braves mistake after mistake in the pursuit of her own conclusions, under the sometimes benevolent, sometimes appalled eye of her parents. It becomes clear that even without all the pieces, this puzzle is less complicated to a child than to the adults who purport to redefine its shape.

As Anna completes her journey, from haughtily “cutting fruit properly” to switching off the boiler in winter to save electricity, we experience and celebrate her frustrations and moments of epiphany, and the puzzled apprehension and delight of newfound freedom.

This unpretentious film offers a brilliant portrayal of 1970s reactionary Paris through its fallible characters and the eyes of the child who watches them suffer and grow. The string of usual revolutionary clichés are mercifully not in abundance here, as Julie Gavras puts careful thought into demonstrating both the importance and futility of symbols and individual action. A few joyous moments of subtle humour complement the overall light-hearted treatment of a heavy historical subject. Armand Amar’s wonderful soundtrack, reminiscent of the more widely known Yann Tiersen, is a pleasure in itself.

Blame in on Fidel! is available on BBC iPlayer until 17th April.

This week’s highlights:

  • 12th – 15th April @ Prince Charles Cinema: Terracotta Far East Film Festival

The Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square is playing host to Terracotta’s third annual film festival. Lovers of extreme cinema and aesthetic perfection, check out this year’s full listing.

  • 12th – 15th April @ East London: Fringe!

Fringe! returns to various venues across East London for a second year running. The Gay Film Fest 2012 offers a more alternative selection than its BFI counterpart with innovative, outrageous and talented filmmakers showcasing films you’ll be sure to remember! Check out the full listing.

  • 12th April @ ICA: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised + Q&A

10 years after the coup which removed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez from office, executive producer Rod Stoneman joins the ICA to discuss Kim Bartley and Donnacha O’Briain’s 2003 celebrated documentary in the present political context. Tickets available here.

  • 12th April @ Curzon Soho: This Is Not A Film + Panel Discussion

In what is surely one of the most important films of the year in the ongoing struggle of filmmakers’ right to freedom and freedom of expression in certain parts of the world, Jafar Panahi turns the camera on himself while under house arrest in Tehran in 2011. Get your tickets here. This is unmissable.

  • 14th April @ Rich Mix Shoreditch: Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years

Screened as part of Fringe! this exceptional documentary about an exceptional woman, poet, activist, addresses issues of racism and sexuality – but most importantly celebrates life and its diversity. Tickets available here.

For full programmes and details:
Fringe Film Fest 2012
Terracotta Far East Film Festival

Coming up:

  • 19th April @ Hackney Picturehouse: Empire of Dust (Bram Van Paesschen, 2011)
  • 2nd-6th May @ Rich Mix Shoreditch: Best of British

 

Continuing from last week’s interview with Olly Lambert, filmwatch.org will be delivering weekly Top Tips from a variety of people in the film industry, either speaking directly to filmwatch.org or as a summary of notes gathered from events and masterclasses.

One World Media ran the above event at London College of Communication on 3rd February as part of the International Student Film Festival.

Here are some top tips from the two speakers on that day.

Dominique Young (Al Jazeera English) – Dominique is a Senior Producer at Al Jazeera English, commissioning documentaries from Africa and the Middle East, for broadcast in the channel’s flagship documentary strand “Witness”, which showcases the work of established and emerging talent from around the world. (Bio from oneworldmedia.org)

  • Watch the channel and especially the slot in which you propose to show your doc: is the subject appropriate? Witness is about characters and individual stories, not issues; ie a doc about drought wouldn’t be appropriate, whereas a doc about a family’s life during drought would be. Also consider that a pitch announcing “my 19 minute doc” will be rejected if there is no 19 minute slot (Witness has a 30 minute slot).
  • Can the viewer recognise themselves in the persons depicted? The audience must be able to relate. It also takes years of experience to recognise a good, strong character and this is, for best or worst, a matter of trial and error.
  • Has the story been told before? If it has, you must be presenting it under a new angle.
  • When pitching by email: a commissioner doesn’t have the time to read 20 pages. When composing your pitch, think of a TV listing which draws in its audience in no more than two sentences. Include an attachment of your detailed proposal (one A4 page max).
  • When contacting a commissioner, you must know and be able to explain how you’re going to film.
  • If you’re a first time director, you’re unlikely to get a budget from a commissioner. It’s judicious to approach a production company that produce the same type of film and are more likely to take you on board; this also ensures that you’re not personally legally responsible for the budget.
  • A commissioner must trust your experience and background, and that you can deliver on time. Young herself worked as a researcher for years before commissioning.
  • When choosing whom to approach, consider that TV docs and festival docs are very different material: a festival audience wants to be there watching your doc; a TV audience might just be channel surfing. Global warming as a subject, for example, is appropriate for both, but will be treated in a different manner: for a festival doc, you might use a nice 5 minute opening shot (we don’t have to know what the subject is straight away); as a TV doc, if the intro lasts 5 minutes the audience will be likely to have switched channels.

 

Brian Woods (True Vision Productions) – Brian is a filmmaker who co-founded the highly regarded production company True Vision. He has directed and worked on a string of award winning films, covering human rights stories from around the world. His films have won numerous Baftas, RTS Awards, Emmies and One World Media Awards. (Bio from oneworldmedia.org).

  • Know where to look for stories. When Robb Leech’s brother converted to Islam, it was “a nightmare for him, a dream come true as a filmmaker” (My Brother the Islamist – BBC3, 2011). Another example is of a filmmaker who had kept in contact with a hospital’s press officer and heard that the first stalker clinic was being opened in the UK: she mentioned the idea and was commissioned straight away to develop it into a film.
  • Know who to pitch your stories to. There are several platforms for emerging talent, such as the 2008 BBC3 documentary scheme Fresh or Channel 4’s First Cut (Channel 4 Commissioning Editor Aysha Rafael has recently commissioned 12 new films under the scheme).
  • Keep up with current budgeting. Dispatches‘ 60 minute slot has been reduced by 30 minutes due to budget cuts. The average budget for Al Jazeera’s Wtness is between £23,000 and £30,000 for a 30 minute slot (this affords about 10 days of editing max). Commissioners don’t generally ask for a cost report, though some do! Bear in mind here is little money or no money when it comes to international development: rather approach NGOs.
  • Experience is key. Commissions are often based on the track-record of filmmakers. Commissioners will also more often select ideas from people they’ve worked with.
  • If you have little or no experience, there are three things you must have: a great idea, a great character, and actual access to that character (evidence of access is generally necessary, such as video footage of that person). A 3 minute taster should be all it takes to convince a commissioner: if a character requires a 45 minute taster introduction, they’re probably not such a great documentary character.
  • Persistence is key: even as a filmmaker of renown, it sometimes takes years for a good story to make the screen. Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children (BBC4, 2010) was first pitched in 2004 and eventually commissioned in 2009. It went on to win an AIB Award and a Peabody Award.
  • Once you do have the attention of several commissioners, a good way to urge competition between them is to present a “letter of interest” from a different broadcaster. Make them fight for the rights to broadcast your film.

 

Next week: Notes from Sorious Somura’s masterclass

One of my favourite films of all times couldn’t go without a review.

Marc Foster’s 2005 high-impact drama was very much overlooked upon release. Scripted by David Benioff (The 25th Hour, Game of Thrones), arguably one of the finest young writers out there, and starring Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Bob Hoskins and the more recently celebrated Ryan Gosling, the psychological thriller category under which falls this gem of a film belies the visually stunning poetry of its cinematography.

Sam Foster (McGregor) and his partner Lila (Watts) live a comfortable life in New York, each of them dedicated to their passion and career, psychiatry and painting respectively. When Sam takes on suicidal patient Henry (Gosling), unsettling thoughts, events and manifestations start seeping into his existence.

Is it a dream? Or a nightmare, more like. Is it madness we’re dealing with? Whose madness? The therapist’s? Or his patient’s, drawing the therapist into his own world? Or is it us he’s drawing in? We hear Lila call Sam “Henry”: is then she the one who’s mad? We, the audience, know she called him that, we heard it, with our very own ears. So is the therapist drawing us into his madness? But he’s not the patient…

All throughout the film, there are signs – apart from the all-round fucked-up narrative – subtle signs that there’s something deeper going on. Something we can’t make sense of and something the character probably only senses without ever getting close to identifying. There are visual clues – all the things happening in doubles – the two girls, with the brown bob and yellow raincoat, simultaneously exiting opposite sides of the car, opening the boot, and simultaneously pulling out two identical suitcases. This, in a remote corner of the overall street view as it’s shot; easily missable, nagging at our subconscious nonetheless. The twins (or clones) passing Sam in the corridor. The omnipresent symmetry. And the cinematography – the staircase!! Everything leads to an explanation of the truth behind the story that we’re not equipped to decipher or even grasp – and so we’re contrived to sitting back and enjoying the aesthetics of it. The beauty of it.

And the final scene – and it is only in the very final scene – when everything falls into place, everything we’ve seen, everything we’ve questioned, everything we’ve noticed and even things we haven’t – it all flashes before our eyes, and it doesn’t make sense but we understand it. Just as our character does. The absoluteness of the tragedy grips us, while the promise of redemption in the form of a new beginning leaves us wondering whether we’re choking back tears of grief or joy.

Now that is cinematic genius.

There’s great news in store for film lovers and geeks everywhere: new web app Letterboxd (still at the beta-testing stage) purports to offer an alternative to IMDb and the many shortcomings it’s developed over the years due to… well, non-development on its part.

Letterboxd have taken the concept of the movie database and blended in successful elements of social media. The result is promising, and “very pretty” in the words of my sister.

Appstorm offer a straightforward and informative overview of the website, so here are just some comments and observations of my own.

By no means am I tech geek. I’m computer literate enough that I can tell the main interface is user-friendly and immediately draws attention to the possibilities generated by the website’s contents. However delving a bit deeper into said contents makes you realise that certain basic functions are a bit difficult to locate. The easiest way to get an overview of the site is to have a look round your own profile and navigate your way from there.

The primary interest, however, being to explore film rather than just build up another online profile, you’ll quickly want to make your way towards the “Films” tab and explore what other users have recently watched or reviewed. You may spot the poster image of a film you’d like to review yourself, or you may decide to search for specific films.

If you’re tempted, as I was on first arrival, to draw a list of every single film you’ve ever seen as remembered off the top of your head – and this can be a challenge when they run in the hundreds – there’s an option to “make this list private” until you’ve tidied up a bit and are ready to share with other users.

I couldn’t find a few of the more obscure films I searched for, particularly those falling under the bracket of world cinema; but Letterboxd plans on merging with IMDb and Delicious Library, allowing users to import films and associated information.

One fantastic aspect to the site which is really facilitated and put forward by its concept is discovering films recommended by people whom you know share the same taste due to common likes and ratings. One very easy way to do this is by exploring their themed lists – and there are plenty of creatively-devised ones to choose from:

Of the other predominant features of the site, the reviews I’ve read so far have been a treat. Popular ones include the one-liner about M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 The Happening:

“Mark Wahlberg gets out acted by a plant.”

If this sort of tongue in cheek remark is not to your taste (and if like me you happen to think there is lot more to Mr Shyamalan’s films than meets the general public’s eye), there are plenty of thoughtful and wordy reviews from Werner Herzog and Al Pacino fans alike.

If nothing else, the ridiculous amount of time I’ve devoted to the website over the past few days should bear testimony to its potential and what it has to offer.

And speaking of offer, I’ve got 3 beta invitations to hand out so leave a comment below if you would like to snatch one up for yourself. First come first serve.

This week’s highlights:

  • 3rd – 12th April @ Curzon Mayfair: Bill Cunningham New York (Richard Press, 2010)

Fans of fashion, The Great Gatsby, and quirky documentaries will enjoy this curious outlook on New York life spanning four decades. Showing all week at Curzon Mayfair.

  • 3rd – 12th April @ Curzon Cinemas: Trishna

Michael Minterbottom’s latest film characteristically delivers beautifully haunting images of a classic story of love and betrayal. If you’re no great fan of Tess of the d’Ubervilles, maybe the superb Rajasthan scenery will change your mind. Trailer and tickets available here.

  • 5th April @ ICA: The Cabin In The Woods

The Ultra Culture Cinema series at the Institute of Contemporary Arts presents a special preview of Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s 2011 horror comedy that will appeal to both fans and critics of horror and its latest cinematic manifestations. Click for trailer and tickets.

  • 8th April on Channel 4: 21 Grams (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2003)

For anyone who hasn’t yet seen this masterpiece, this is the perfect opportunity to watch Benicio Del Toro deliver a performance only nearly (but not quite) equalled by the superb Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. Tune in at 1AM on Sunday 8th. Warning: this film will stay with you for a long time.

Coming up:

  • 20th April – 19th May: “Pull up a ‘Hitchcock’ Pew” with Film Fugitive